Injuries are part of the game. Everyone’s got theirs. Except Paul Lee, I learned while I was the courtside reporter for the UE Red Warriors. At least that’s whenever anyone asked him. Rumors spread that he was hurt. Producers asked everyone, including me, if it was true. I’ll never forget Paul tell all of us in the locker room before the first game, in a half-threat, half-plead tone, “Pag may nagtanong, wala akong injury ah.”
Liar. He was hurt. Badly. He was Batman after Bane put him in that cell in the prison well. He was Spartacus, struggling to stand in the arena. He was Babalu after Dolphy hit him in the head with the rolled-up dyaryo, only instead of dyaryo, it was a steel pipe and he got smacked about a thousand times around his entire body.
Throughout that year, he only got worse. Injuries to his ankle, finger and lower back were bad enough. But he kept pushing himself, knowing only how to play at the highest level. And then the secret that was never really a secret, was revealed to the world. I don’t remember who we were against, or if we won or lost. All I can recall for sure is that Paul went down. He had been complaining about his calf in the locker room. They taped it. It didn’t help. Paul Lee was down on the floor, unable to stand, the mountain of injuries finally too heavy to bear. Once they lifted him back to the bench, with whispers of torn ligaments or strained muscles floating from one trainer to another, he called me over. “Sabihin mo sa report mo, cramps lang.”, he said.
He didn’t want to cop out. He never wanted to sit on the bench. He was the best, he was convinced of it. And he believed the best are always on the floor proving it, the best do not make excuses. It didn’t matter that he was as sturdy as Mr. Potato Head, after you drop Mr. Potato Head from the roof. It didn’t matter that every step caused incredible pain. It didn’t matter that the gruesome broken toe he had since that year’s preseason was the ugliest case of a broken bone I had ever seen in my life. It was the first of all the injuries that nagged him. It was so bruised, 50 Shades of Grey had nothing on him.
Paul Lee is the most impassioned competitor I have ever seen in the flesh. He never let any amount of pain keep him down. “Kailangan ako ng team eh. Kung hindi naman,edi magpapahinga ako” he said. His sacrifice for the team was infectious, even a glorified eavesdropper like me caught the bug. When he winced, I told people he just wanted to win so badly. When the trainers re-taped him, I said they were just a bunch of obsessive compulsive types who were only playing it safe. When he had to change from his brand new Nike Hyperfuses to his old Hyperdunks in halftime because the swelling and bleeding on his broken toe ruined the new pair, I told people he was just being superstitious and sentimental.
That’s why I believe that whatever happened to that shoulder in Game 2 of the PBA Finals has got to be more painful than any of us ordinary people can imagine. I saw him put up near triple-doubles on one leg. For him to sit out the end of the biggest game of his career? It had to be extraordinary, it had to be a shoulder check from the devil himself.
That whole UAAP season I lied for Paul Lee. Now it’s time I tell the truth. He is the toughest sumbitch I’ve ever seen. When he was wincing on that Rain or Shine bench, I recognized the look on his face. It’s the one I saw all of his last year with UE. It’s the face he puts on when he shouts at the team doctors, yelling at them to re-tape whatever bone popped out so he could sub back in and play.
This time it will take more than tape to repair the injury, more than just his iron will to get him back in the game. This time, Paul Lee, the 2012 PBA Rookie of the Year has to slow down. At least I hope, as a fan, he does. However, something inside me, the part that of me that knows him as a friend, won’t be surprised to see him on the court again before this series is done, especially after James Yap and B-Meg have crawled back to make it a 3-2 series.
Is it because he’s arrogant? Headstrong? Too competitive for his own good that he’ll play through the worst injury of his career? Maybe. Or maybe what really happened was,
“It was only a minor injury that is completely healed now and that the trainers just played it safe by sitting out Paul in the last moments of a lost game. His evident wincing was caused only by his strong desire to win. The stretcher was just for dramatic effect, and the heavy shoulder brace is just a lucky accessory. Paul Lee is injury-free and ready to play again. Back to you, guys.”
Sounds familiar. Sounds like Paul wrote it himself. Sounds like he’ll be back. Sounds like nothing has ever kept him down. Sounds like he’s out to keep proving that nothing ever will.